The Fire (Nestinar) dances are a ritual tradition, related to dancing over live coals, with roots dating back to most ancient times. It was widely spread in the region of Strandzha mountain, nowadays it is practiced only in the villages of Bulgari and Novo Panicharevo. Elements of pagan and Christian rites unite in an amazing way in the fire-dances.
The ritual is performed on 21st May, the day of the St. St. Constantine and Elena, but its preparation starts from 01st May; a few days before the feats the fire-dancers perform night processions with music throughout the village. In the day of the very feast at daybreak all peasants, in festive dresses, gather in the church, the priest says the holy mass, the peasants procession directs to the village spring, holding the icon of St. St. Constantine and Elena, decorated with flowers and old coins. On the spring site they perform inauguration with water, offering (kurban – slaughter a mutton as sacrifice), eat, drink, dance, and in the afternoon they return back to the village, stopping at the village square, singing: “Bless you, St. Constantine!”
At dusk time, the fire-dancers light up a fire of dry wood and leave it burning, while visiting all houses in the village, carrying the icon and accompanied by pipes and drums. Then they return back to the fire and poke the live coals of the burnt wood in a circle. Accompanied by a typical rhythmic music the women fire-dancers enter one by one the circle with the live coals and dance over. The first woman is carrying the icon. After their dance, around the fire starts a nestinar horo (traditional dance in chain) lead by boys with icons. Men and women join the horo, dancing “for health”, accompanied by pipes and drums.
A similar ritual exists also in Northern Greece. The dancers are called there anastenari.